I was 22. I had just come out of a bad break-up and was itching to get a passport stamp when a friend mentioned Costa Rica. It’s the perfect first step out of the country for Americans: safe, quick and no visa necessary.
How To Fly
JetBlue, plain and simple. You can research other airlines, but I can bet they won’t be as cheap, especially after you factor in that you get two free carry-ons AND your first checked bag free, not to mention unlimited Dunkin Donuts coffee, tea, soft drinks, and snacks. Oh, and with DirecTv and movies, I really can’t say enough great things about JetBlue (it’s safe to say I’m a TrueBlue Member).
Where to Go
San Jose: the capitol city of this small Central American nation. It’s a great place if you want the immersed vacation. There’s taxis to get you around, but it may be best to rent a car (easy as pie, even if you’re not 25) to get to the nearby areas for sightseeing. I spent about a week in San Jose and about a week in my second destination, Manuel Antonio.
Manuel Antonio National Park: gorgeous beaches, immersed wildlife, nightlife, great food and a perfect vacation all in one shot! Everything is very accessible by taking a leisurely walk along the beach.
Image courtesy of villascostarica.com
Where not to go: Limon. Why? I was warned there’s potential for malaria, and that was enough for me to not want to go near that provence.
Where to Stay
In San Jose: Best Western Downtown - rates start at $71 a night, with amenities including a bilingual staff (important!), pool and breakfast!
Aranjuez Hotel - with rates starting at $25 a night including an exceptional breakfast buffet and with a website boasting rave reviews, it was hard to turn this one down.
In Manuel Antonio: Best Western Kamuk - where I stayed. With a pool, ocean views, a casino, restaurant, plus buffet breakfast, my stay couldn’t have been better! Rates were only $60 a night, and the staff was so nice! The downside? It requires a bus ride to get to the swimming beaches (but you’re closer to the docks for all the other fun things!)
Hotel Mono Azul - my second option. With a pool and restaurant and rates at $50 a night, right on the hills of Manuel Antonio, this hotel offers great views and food at a great price!
What to Do
Volcan Poas is a dying volcano and hiking trail you can travel to in the mountains just outside of San Jose. Tour buses can take you for $20 a person, or if you make Costa Rican friends to travel with, pretend to be asleep and get charged only $5 a person (get away with pretending to be a local, check).
Image courtesy of chessbase.com
Slightly outside of San Jose (day trip status) is the Sloth Sanctuary. I advise renting a car for this three hour drive to the Caribbean side. They offer the $25/person Buttercup Tour, which is a one hour tour where you can meet-and-greet baby sloths and the grand dame of the Sloth Sanctuary. However, if you reallllly love sloths, you can splurge $150 and have a full meal with the head of the sanctuary followed by a hands-on care day with the sloths.
Image courtesy of ticotimes.net
Manuel Antonio is a national park offering both the clear, equatorial pacific ocean and the lush rain forest. Manuel Antonio has an infinite list of fun things to do! Snorkeling, diving, ziplining, horseback riding, hiking, boating, fishing… take your pick! I spent $30 to go snorkeling and had the time of my life, and the other activities are in the same general price range.
Image courtesy of flickr.com/photos/ozgi1
Where to Eat
In San Jose: My favorite place was a Pan-Asian restaurant called Tin Jo, located in downtown at Calle 11, Avenidas 6 and 8. Great drinks, great spring rolls, great curry, plus an amazing ambiance and entree prices that start around $10 USD.
In Manuel Antonio: There’s plenty of good food over in Manuel Antonio/Quepos area, so picking a favorite was hard, but I really enjoyed Restaurantico’s, near the Best Western Kamuk. They offer delicious smoothies, traditional Costa Rican breakfast, and everything from quesadillas to burgers on the menu.
Where to Drink
In San Jose: There were two bars in San Jose that I favored. Area City, located on Sur de Bomba La Primavera at Calle 21, is a two-story lounge-like bar with seating upstairs and dancing and standing over giant open windows for a breeze downstairs. Pub Rock, on Sur de La Embajada de Nicaragua, was another favorite. With it’s rock ‘n roll theme I fit right in and loved the selection of music and the laid-back crowd. Also, 500 colones ($1 USD) shots, depending on the night.
In Manuel Antonio: Quality bars for the younger crowd are hard to come by since this location is a popular retirement spot, but one place is a must-see: the Airplane Bar. Actually called Restaurante El Avion, walk into this shelled-out 1980′s plane to have a drink.
Costa Rica is by far one of my favorite travel destinations in the world. If you’ve ever been, where were you favorite places to stay and sightsee? Leave us a comment and let me know!
Written by Sahra Schukraft
Follow her fashion and lifestyle blog, Effortless Cool!